Karnit Goldwasser finally free to mourn

Until the last moment, the families clung to the slim hope that the two men would return alive.

regev candles 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
regev candles 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
As she stood in the mourning tent at the Shraga army base near Nahariya, Karnit Goldwasser caressed her husband's flag-draped coffin. She had come to the end of a two-year battle to force the government to free her husband Ehud and fellow IDF reservist Eldad Regev, both of whom were kidnapped by Hizbullah while patrolling the northern border in July 2006. As recently as two-and-a-half weeks ago she reacted angrily on hearing that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believed the two men had been killed in action. On Wednesday night, she and Olmert stood over her husband's coffin and embraced, their foreheads touching, their faces etched in pain and sorrow. Earlier, Olmert's office released a statement in which he said: "With all of Israel, I embrace and hug the families of Regev and Goldwasser in mourning. My throat is dry, my eyes are tearing and my heart goes out to the families who struggled without a sign [of life], and didn't lose hope until the very last moment." Both families came to the base to pay their respects to their loved ones. They arrived after spending the day in their respective hometowns. The Regev family, including Eldad's father, Tzvi, and three brothers, sat in the Kiryat Motzkin home where he grew up. News of the loss came on the day they were commemorating the yahrzeit of Eldad's mother, Tova, who died 10 years ago of cancer. Tzvi sighed, as he has often done when talking of the son he had hoped to welcome home. "It's hard," he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night, after returning from viewing the coffin, "very hard. But we will persevere." Until the last moment, the families clung to the slim hope that the two men would return alive. The first indication that the day would end tragically came mid-morning, when they watched on TV as Hizbullah placed two simple black coffins on the ground. "It was terrible to see. I couldn't look - I asked that the television be turned off," Tzvi said. In the afternoon, after the final forensic identification had been made, Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern came to give the sad tidings to the Goldwasser family as they sat in the home of Karnit's mother on a side street in Nahariya. "It was very difficult news for them. Despite this heavy feeling, there is also a feeling that we completed the mission of bringing them back to the Land of Israel," Stern said as he left the home. Shortly there after, Karnit's father, Omri Avni, stood behind the gated driveway of his wife's home and spoke to reporters. He said the words that the family had refused to say for two years: "Udi [Ehud] and Eldad were killed in action." "You all know that Karnit promised his parents that she would bring Udi home. Today she fulfilled her promise; Udi is back here. This is a time for Karnit to open her heart and start mourning and crying, and she did," Avni said. The couple had been married for only nine months when Ehud was taken. At one point, Karnit told the Post that when he returned they would celebrate two honeymoons - the anniversary of their October wedding and the date of his return. They were never able to celebrate that first anniversary. Karnit did not address the media on Wednesday. She emerged with her father hours after Stern's visit, as the family headed to the military base. Her father kept his hand on her shoulder as they walked to the waiting bus. Ehud's mother, Miki, did stop to talk with reporters before boarding the bus. She woke up Wednesday still hoping that she would hug her son. "In the morning there was still hope," but then reality struck, she said. "We remain strong. I grew up in a very patriotic home." It was very important to her, Miki said, to hold her head up high and not to let the Lebanese celebrate the return of terrorist Samir Kuntar. A friend of Ehud's from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Miki Leibowich, told the Post that he, too, had held onto hope until the end. "When you are talking about a close friend, you keep hope in your heart," Leibowich said. He was among those who joined the Goldwasser family in their battle to pressure the government to make a deal. He had started a grassroots group, The Civil Campaign to Free the Kidnapped Soldiers. Initially, Leibowich said, they were told that Ehud had been killed in fighting back in 2006. So when they heard that he had been kidnapped, they were relieved. "We were very innocent. We though that the word 'kidnapped' meant he was alive and that at the end there would be a short exchange and he would return," Leibowich said. But when the war ended without their return, they and the family understood that if they wanted to see the two men again, they would have to act. "We have been fighting for two years a very intense battle," he said after he left the Goldwasser home. As a result of that battle, a group of American teens visiting Nahariya knew who Eldad and Ehud were. During the afternoon their bus pulled up next to the two-story red-roofed home. They walked over and lit a few small candles on the sidewalk. "When we heard what was happening here, we wanted to come and show our support," said Gween Barney of Pittsburgh. The teenagers then sat silently on the sidewalk across the street. One of them held a handwritten sign reading, "One nation, One heart." Some of them read silently from prayer books. "None of us have met Ehud or Eldad, but we are standing here because this is everyone's loss," said David Feldman of Atlanta.